Merton Keep, French Ambassador's Residency, Pretoria

Merton Keep

The French Ambassador to South Africa lives in a lovely house called Merton Keep, which was used as a field hospital during the Second South African War (the Anglo-Boer War). There is a plaque hidden behind a struggling myrtle that commemorates the death of Prince Christian Victor, Queen Victoria's grandson (and apparently her favourite), who died here of enteric fever and malaria. (His mother planted an oak at his grave, which died. It was replaced by Harry Bruins-Lich, Pretoria's director of parks, with a hardier oak, but it is still today a puny struggling tree. It is said that his grave is haunted because he was buried in Pretoria, not in England.)

During World War II Merton Keep was used by the Red Cross as a recuperation centre for returning soldiers.

When the building was deftly renovated by the French Embassy - they keep two architects on staff to look after their official buildings in Southern and East Africa and the Indian Ocean region - the garden was also spruced up.

I played my modest bit: I put a landscape architect that I met through the Botanical Society in touch with the architects. She oversaw planting of indigenous trees, like white stinkwoods (Celtis africana), lavender trees (Heteropyxis natalensis), river bushwillows (Combretum erythrophyllum). And I donated a tree I'd grown from seed myself - that's how good an employee I was: a wild peach, Kiggelaria africana.

The garden had good bones - very tall cypresses, mature pines, jacarandas and oaks, citrus trees. And outside the kitchen door un potager (vegetable and herb garden), of course. >>